Two years ago, a woman arriving home on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation after being away for a few days noticed that her door was wide open.
The house had been trashed. There was a trail of blood coming from the bathroom. The home, she recalls, was filled with “the smell of death.”
She found her pregnant dog, Dolly, dead – her abdomen slashed open, her litter removed and the fetuses thrown against a wall.
The RCMP investigated the May, 2011 incident and concluded that a child under the age of 12 was responsible. The case was referred to the Social Services Ministry.
That boy, say several members of the reserve, including the dog’s owner, is believed to have killed six-year-old Lee Bonneau last month. The child, who residents say is either 10 or 11, has been fingered by the RCMP as the only person who could have been responsible for Lee’s death on Aug. 21.
The foster child was violently attacked in a wooded area near the community hall, suffering severe head wounds inflicted by what police called a weapon of “opportunity.” The boy with a deep laugh who liked to play outdoors was last seen alive just a few metres away from where his foster mother – who was visiting from outside the reserve – took part in Wednesday night bingo. The RCMP say the two children didn’t know each other.
Before Lee’s death, Evan Taypotat, the principal of Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School, said band members had taken pride in the fact that the reserve has a strong chief and council and a good school and other organizations. “This is Kahkewistahaw. Those things don’t happen here,” he said. “We’re a good place. We’re a good place to grow up, to live and to grow old.”
Now, he said, “the community, obviously, has lost its swagger.”
The first nation, located 150 kilometres east of Regina, has been thrust into an unwelcome media spotlight while its residents grapple with the knowledge that one of their youngest members has become an accused killer. Shaken by the incident, the chief and council are considering a curfew for young people, while others argue that volunteer “peacekeepers” are needed to patrol the reserve.
“To me, he was always a very respectful boy. I never saw that anger stuff in him,” said Chief Sheldon Taypotat. “I don’t know what was going through his mind. It’s unbelievable that it happened.”
The boy used to ride his bike past the front of Nadine Isaac’s long driveway. She would see him at the nearby convenience store hanging out with his friends. He had even come over to her home several times to play with her five-year-old son.
“I thought he was a nice little guy,” Ms. Isaac said on the porch of her bungalow on the reserve. “I thought he was a normal 10-year-old.”
Child-welfare system put ‘on alert’
The tragedy on the Kahkewistahaw First Nation raises the thorny issue of how this country deals with its youngest offenders and has reignited the controversial debate over whether the law should be changed to get tougher on child criminals.
The boy who allegedly killed Lee Bonneau cannot be named, has not been charged with a crime and will not serve any time in jail. The minimum age of legal liability varies internationally, but in Canada it is 12.
Instead, the boy is considered a child in need of help and is under the care of Saskatchewan’s child-welfare system. He has been sent for treatment to a group home for high-risk children with behavioural problems somewhere in the province. Saskatchewan doesn’t have secure, locked facilities for dealing with such youngsters, but Social Services Minister June Draude has said the boy is under 24-hour supervision. Officials have been in touch with other provinces in case they need further help.
Mental-health professionals are working with the boy to try to get to the bottom of his actions. They are trying to determine “what the mindset of the child was at the time of the incident, whether there was other trauma, whether it was an impulsive act, whether there was impaired judgment [and] whether there were any other factors involved,” said Andrea Brittin, assistant deputy minister for child and family services at the Ministry of Social Services.
The boy’s extreme alleged violence raises troubling questions about failures in the system. The case has sparked reviews by the Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services agency, which was involved with the boy, along with the provincial Social Services Ministry and Saskatchewan’s children’s advocate.